This week’s article will provide our readership with an overview of the basic concepts of basar b’chalav – meat accidently mixed with dairy. Which details are important to mention when presenting a question to the rabbi? What is bitul, and when does it take place? What is eino ben yomo – literally “not one day old”, and when is this concept relevant? How can food be kosher while the pot – is not? Sharp foods have their own halachic status. What is it? When are different cooking stages relevant? Of this and more in the coming article.
In preparation for the upcoming holiday of Shavous we will begin a series on the halachos of basar b’chalav – mixing meat and dairy, focusing specifically on common kitchen scenarios.
The Toras Chaim (Bave Metzia 86b) explains why dairy is eaten on Shavous: “When Hashem came to give Yisroel the Torah, the angels objected. Hashem told them, ‘Why are you opposed to it? Didn’t you eat meat with dairy in Avraham Avinu’s house, as it is written ‘And he took cream and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed before them’ (Bereshis 18:8)? But amongst the Jewish people even a small babe doesn’t eat meat with dairy.’ And the angels were silenced.” On Shavous we customarily eat dairy and meat and are scrupulous to uphold all the details of the relevant halachos, showing the angels once again how careful we are with basar b’chalav.
The Shela (Shavous, Ner Mitzva 16) finds an allusion linking milk to Shavous in the pasuk that mentions both Bikkurim, the gift of first fruit offered on Shavous, and the prohibition of mixing milk with meat: “The choicest of the first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord, your G-d. You shall not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” (Shemos 23:19). We must be extra scrupulous with the halachos of meat and dairy on Shavous. This series is presented here in order to enable our readership to prepare properly for the holiday.
In this week’s article we will carefully define the main concepts in the basar b’chalav vocabulary. This is important both for understanding the halachos properly, and to know how to present a question when one arises.
While asking a rabbi a question is relatively easier than it was in the past — with the press of a button questions can be sent and answered by component esteemed rabbonim on websites such as dinonline.org, this ease brings another set of problems: while in the past one met the rabbi face to face and presented his question allowing time for back-and-forth questioning, online platforms don’t encourage this kind of conversation. Often, in asking a question one isn’t even aware of the missing details which could completely change the answer. The lexicon presented in this article will give you the relevant lingo and concepts on what and how to ask the rabbi when a question arises. Subsequent articles will discuss practical questions which will be dissected in light of these rules.
Bitul / Pagum (Nullification / Defective)
The following are two essential concepts invoked when discussing a mixture of meat and dairy: pagum – defective, or bitul – canceling or nullifying. The forbidden combination of meat and dairy can be affected by a number of details.
- Bitul b’rov – cancelled by a majority:
A mixture in which most components are kosher and the minority – forbidden, cancels the forbidden component when the flavor of the prohibited component is unnoticeable. This form of nullification cancels the Torah prohibition, leaving it only prohibited rabbinically, and in some situations, completely permitted.
When the forbidden component in the mixture, minute as it may be, gives flavor to the entire mixture, the mixture is forbidden. (According to some Rishonim the prohibition is rabbinic, however, most see it as a Torah prohibition.) However, when the flavor is undiscernible because of its small quantity, the mixture is permitted. The Gemara outlines the way to determine this: a non-Jewish chef is given a taste to determine if the flavor of the prohibited item is discernable or not.
- Nullified in sixty:
Another form of nullification commonly used in halacha is bitul b’shishim – nullified in sixty. Chazal approximated that regular foods (excluding seasoning) can give flavor up until a mixture of 1 for the prohibited flavor to 60 of the kosher food. Take for example meat and cooked onions, both of which have taste. If there is sixty times more meat than onions in a dish, the onion flavor will be nullified. The same goes for the meat – if there is sixty times more onions than meat, the flavor of the meat is nullified. Therefore, when there is sixty times more of a permissible flavor than the forbidden one, the forbidden flavor is nullified – or in halachic lingo, it undergoes bitul.
- Nullification in a hundred:
Certain items require nullification in a hundred times more. Examples of these are trumah or challah (the bit taken off for the mitzva of separating challah).
- Nullification impossible:
Some prohibitions can never be nullified. One of them is chometz on Pesach, and another is a berya – a whole creature, such as an ant or fly. Therefore, if a bug fell into a dish and is assumed to have remained whole, the entire mixture is forbidden even if there is a thousand times more food than the bug.
The source for the one to sixty raio is that a non-Jewish chef would most probably not discern the flavor of a food in a ratio of more than 1/60.
Different mixtures require different methods of nullification. Flavor requires a non-Jewish chef’s determination because he is permitted to taste the dish. Halachic sources are split as for the reason a professional chef is necessary for this: either is it because a regular person is unqualified to do so, or because a chef won’t risk his prestige to lie. Where the dish is essentially kosher (such as a dish of traumah which can be consumed by a purified kohen) one can give the dish to a fellow Jew to taste if the forbidden flavor is discernable of not.
Contemporary Ashkenazi halachic sources do not rely upon a chef, and even Sfaradi sources often do the same, especially for issues of meat and dairy.
The rule of 1 to 60 does not apply to:
1) Spices – every spice which is customarily used sparingly but flavors the entire dish is forbidden at larger ratios than 1/60. Therefore, forbidden (for whatever reason) black pepper that fell into a soup, even if only a pinch in a large pot, is not nullified until it has been established that it no longer flavors the soup.
2) Used for flavor: an item that has been purposely used for its flavor even at less than a 1/60 ratio it is not nullified.
This point is especially important for commercial production. Factory products can have upwards of 200 different ingredients. While manufacturers are obligated to list their ingredients, many items are listed under the obscure titles of ‘preservatives’, or ‘leavening agents’. Additionally, many ingredients are made of other ingredients. And here arises the questions: if one of the 200 ingredients in a product containing an ingredient which is produced from non-kosher meat, would the ingredient be nullified? Often, the answer is no, because the ingredient was used for its flavor.
These halachos are not only relevant to rabbonim in the kashrus industry, but also for us, the common consumer – We should never downplay the importance of only buying food with a reliable kashrus supervision! Even products with a relatively short list of ingredients may contain obscure ingredients, many of which are not listed in the ingredient list and may involve innumerable questionable products.
Secondly, when asking a rabbi a question, the cook’s intention is of utmost importance – did he put the butter in the pot on purpose or did it fall in by mistake? And what was the butter supposed to do – prevent food from sticking or create a better texture/ color /flavor / volume etc.?
A pungent ingredient whose flavor is unwanted is nullified when it is the minority. Therefore, if a whole fly fell into a pot of soup and is impossible to find – if the soup is cold and we can safely assume the fly is still whole, the pot of soup is forbidden because a whole creature can never be nullified. But if a large number of flies fell into a boiling pot of soup and subsequently pureed, leaving not one single whole fly in the mixture (they were either removed or blended) even if they constitute more than 1/60th of the soup since they are the minority of an undesired substance the food remains kosher. (Flies do not usually enhance the taste of food.)
Another example is a pot which was used for cooking non-kosher food. The Torah teaches us that cooking utensils absorb the flavor of whatever food that was cooked in them. Therefore, kosher food that was cooked in a pot that was previously used with non-kosher food renders the food unkosher because the flavor of the non-kosher food is absorbed in the kosher food. However if 24 hours have passed since the non-kosher food was cooked, the flavor now absorbed in the kosher food will be sour, spoiled, or rancid. Since the flavor of the non-kosher food no longer enhances the taste of the kosher food, the kosher food remains kosher.
It is, however, important to note: if the kosher food has a sharp taste, the non-kosher flavor is enhanced, and the dish is not kosher, even if pot was used for non-kosher food more than 24 hours beforehand.
Here as well, intention is paramount: if the absorbed flavor is desired, the result is not kosher. A common example is whisky left to ferment in casks previously used for producing non-kosher sherry. If the purpose is to infuse the whisky with the sherry flavor the whisky is not kosher. (This example was presented to illustrate the halacha. Practically though, there are many other points to consider and every case must be presented individually.)
As we’ve discussed in the pre-Pesach articles, different substances absorb flavors differently. While metal pots absorb and distribute flavors of foods cooked in them in a regular fashion, earthenware behaves irregularly in this regard, and is therefore impossible to kosher. According to Eidot Hamizrach glass does not absorb flavors, while for Ashkenazim glass is impossible to kosher.
Not A Day Old
While food does not become unkosher if cooked in a non-kosher pot which was not used for 24 hours, chazal forbid doing so purposely because various accidents can result from it, among others: cooking before the 24-hour lapse. Additionally, if a sharp food is cooked in the pot, it will be unkosher despite the passing of the required 24 hours.
As mentioned above, sharp vegetables have a different halachic status than other foods. This is due to their tendency to enhance spoiled flavors. Additionally, while flavors don’t usually transfer without either heat or soaking in liquid for 24 hours, sharp vegetables absorb flavor when they are cut with a sharp utensil or when they are soaked even for less than 24 hours. The list of sharp vegetables include uncooked onions, various radishes, garlic, hot pepper, horseradish, lemon, and salted fish. Onions and garlic, once cooked, lose their sharpness and are no longer considered a sharp vegetable.
An additional point which we won’t expound upon now but must be mentioned is chaticha na’asies nevela – when an entire piece becomes unkosher. If a quarter cup of milk spilled on a chicken thigh and rendered it unkosher, and then the thigh was placed in a pot with other chicken thighs, do we consider the flavor of the milk nullified because it is less than 1/60th of all the meat in the pot, or are we required to have at least 61 chicken thighs in the pot for nullification of the entire chicken piece that was rendered non-kosher? Obviously, a professional chef is also of no help here because no chef can discern the flavor of forbidden meat from kosher meat.
This point is very important when asking a question: It may be important to know how many times a spoon was used in a hot pot; how much food was in the pot when the non-kosher item fell in and how much was added afterwards. This is where the details can change the halachic picture.
Kosher Food, Non-Kosher Pot
One of the common misunderstandings involves the seeming contradiction between pots and the food cooked inside them. Often a pot will require koshering while the food that was cooked inside remains kosher. How is that possible?
Here we touch on the topic of l’echatchila – the preferable state of affairs, and bedieved – post facto, once the deed has been done.
An example is where meat was cooked in a dairy pot after 24 hours have elapsed since cooking dairy, while it is rabbinically forbidden to cook the meat, post facto — the food remains kosher. The pot, though, cannot l’echatchila be used for cooking neither meat nor dairy Therefore, before using the pot again, it requires koshering.